Lesson in Living

Chapter 10

By: Starath

Author's Note: Not much to say here, except my customary thank yous. This time I have to add Trapper's name to the list, who gave me some insight into the male mind. :D And as usual, G1 Transformers belong to HASBRO, but I stole Megatron's socks, bwahaha.

"Me… I'm rusted and weathered, barely holding together… I'm covered with skin that peels and just won't heal…"

- "Weathered" by Creed, series theme song

Casey ran through her mental checklist. Library books? Check. Study guides? Check. Ridiculous amount of textbooks? Check. She sighed and hefted her backpack. Even though she carried most of the load in her hands, the weight of her backpack made her spine compress two inches. At least that marketing project was done. Casey and Faye had given their presentation earlier and the professor seemed to have taken it well. One final exam was done. Four more to go.

She kicked open the library doors and dodged around them around them to get outside. The sooner she got home the sooner she could dump everything on the floor and take a nap. She had allowed herself two days off from classes before returning despite her lingering cold. The Decepticons hadn't been able to convince her otherwise; they didn't have final exams next week.

She stopped at the street intersection to wait for the crosswalk signal to light up. She didn't realize Rumble was behind her until he slurped loudly on his Burger King cup. She jumped.

"Geez, you scared me!" She glanced over his shoulder. "Where's Frenzy?"

He finished off his drink and tossed the cup in a nearby trashcan. "He went with Dad to work. I gotta talk to you about something, Star."

"What is it?" she asked, hastily crossing the street. She stumbled and nearly dropped her armful of books.

Rumble grabbed her arm. "You want some help with that?"

"No, I'm fine."

He casually poked her in the ribs. When she yelped and stumbled again, he smoothly snatched her books as she let them go. Casey scoffed.

"If you insist."

"It'll help you pay attention to what I gotta ask you," he said gravely.

Casey thought he reminded her of Soundwave when he looked so serious. "Alright, shoot."

"I know you're not one of us Decepticons. I asked Soundwave for confirmation. Why'd you lie to us, Star?"

"I…" She swallowed and struggled for words. "It was Megatron's idea. He thought that if you boys believed I was a Decepticon, you'd be more likely to cooperate with me to help you blend in as humans. It's my fault for fooling him in the first place; I made him think I was a Decepticon spy to get him out of trouble."

"Mm-hmm." He said, his mouth in a thin line.

They walked for a block in silence. Casey waited until she felt brave enough to look at him. "Are you mad?"

Rumble exhaled loudly. "A few weeks ago, I mighta been. It doesn't really matter now."

"And that's… a good thing?"

"Sure. We've done what Cybertronians always do: Adapt. It doesn't matter to me what you are, cos' I know you for you."

She smiled. "That's very mature of you to say."

"Just cos' I look young does that mean I think like a kid. I have nothing against humans, they just get in my way when I'm on a mission." His frown softened. "The thing is, it makes a lot of stuff fit together."

"What do you mean?"

"What am I going to tell Frenzy? He thinks you're just playin' hard to get like most Decepticon femmes."

Casey kicked a pebble. It darted down the sidewalk and under a car. "I don't know what to tell you. Now Frenzy and Starscream are the last ones to know the truth."

"Can't you tell him?"

"Do you think he'd believe me?"

"Why not?"

"Rumble, he'd think it's another ploy to get him to leave me alone. Your brother is adorable, but not very smart when he's focused on something."

At this he said nothing.

Casey spotted the apartment complex ahead. The idea of home and a bed made her walk faster. "Besides, he needs to hear it from you or Soundwave because it's a serious thing he'll have to process. For reasons I've never understood, he thinks I'm his dream girl. He probably won't take it well, and it would be cruel to hear it from me first."

He grumbled a bit, trying to keep up with her. "That means I'm first in firing range."

"Yeah, sorry. I need to keep drama to a minimum because the rest of my final exams are next week. You're his brother. You can take whatever he can dish out." She held the glass doors open for him.

"Thanks for the confidence." He stopped in the lobby. "I'm gonna go find him and Soundwave now. Think you can make it with all your books?"

Casey took them carefully from him, bracing them against her chest. "Textbook balancing, a college sport I'm good at. Studying, yay." She rolled her eyes. "Good luck."

"Yeah, I'll need it." He watched her hike up the stairs. "By the way, Star?"

She turned around. "Hmm?"

"He likes you because you humor him and make him feel like he matters to someone. You're a good person. For a human."

Casey stared at her books. "Thanks, I think."

He shrugged. "It's the tr—"

An irritated female voice coming from upstairs interrupted him. Casey threw herself against the wall just before Silvia barreled down the steps.

"Come ON, Maverick, I'm going to be late for work!"

"I'm coming!" Starscream called back, blundering after her. "I haven't tied my boots yet!" He bumped into Casey. "Hi, Star."

"Hi Screamer." She wrinkled her nose. She'd gotten a close encounter with his armpit.

Rumble got out of Silvia's way. He lifted his sunglasses and whistled at her. She flipped him off. Rumble laughed, then shifted his smirk to Starscream. "Having trouble tying your shoes? Should Star do it for you like last time?"

Starscream scowled. "I need no assistance, squirt." He sat down on the last step and attempted to untangle his fingers from a knot of bootlaces.

"You coulda fooled me!"

Casey just shook her head and headed upstairs, leaving the bickering Decepticons behind. By the time Starscream left the building, Silvia was two blocks ahead. He started after her and paused in mid-step. Did he just see Megatron down the street? So what if he did? Megatron could take care of himself. Starscream smiled mischievously and teleported alongside Silvia to startle her.

Megatron didn't know why he was doing this. Uncertainty squirmed in his belly. Since when was he nervous about anything? He shook himself. He locked his gaze on the green and white sign ahead. I am just going to ask some questions, he thought. There is nothing wrong with that. He didn't exactly know many people in this world, so he lacked options. Only three humans knew who he really was. He couldn't ask Casey, and he had no way of contacting Bryan, even if he wanted to. Hopefully Kari would be at work today. If his questions bothered him any longer, Megatron thought his head might explode.

A little bell cheerfully rang over his head when he walked into the pet store. The scents of animals, dog food and wood shavings smacked him in the nose. He made a face of disgust.

"Well, look who it is, it's Mr. Bear!" Kari waved from her place behind the cash register. "Come to get a pet too?"

Megatron braced himself to keep his temper under control. "Hardly. I have need to speak with you."

"About what?"

"Important… things. Preferably sooner than later."

She began to giggle, but covered her mouth. His serious expression killed any amusement she had. "Let me see if I can get off register for a few." She bounced away. Five minutes later she returned, dragging her coworker Robert by the arm.

"But I hate working the register!" He complained.

"It's important." Kari pointed at Megatron. "Think I should make him wait?"

Robert saw him and did a double-take. Megatron had chosen to wear his outfit from the Mall today. He rolled his shoulders and cracked the knuckles in one hand. He smiled, enjoying how much he tended to shock humans with his appearance.

"Take as long as you need." said Robert, his mouth hanging open.

"Thank you!" Kari patted him on the shoulder and headed for the door. Megatron followed her out, to a bench sitting in the shade of the building. She sat down and indicated the space beside her. He didn't move.

"So what's up?" Kari asked, definitely curious.

Automatically he began pacing. "I require some explanation regarding something that happened yesterday. I don't understand it, as it is beyond my realm of experience."

"Okay," She nodded. "Go for it."

"My first question: What…" He trailed off, suddenly self-conscious of what he wanted to ask. He halted in front of Kari, but couldn't look her in the eyes. "What does a hug mean?"

Kari blinked. This had come out of left field. "It depends on why you got one in the first place, and who gave it to you. What happened yesterday?"

"I was angry and lost my temper with Casey. I scared her—"

"You what?" Kari yelled, instantly in protective friend mode.

"I didn't harm her!" He protested. "Let me finish before you judge me."

"Fine." She crossed her arms, still glaring at him. "You must have fixed things if you're asking about a hug."

"She hasn't been well, and it is due in part because of us that her condition is so poor. But then, she hasn't allowed us to help her much, either, because she stopped asking. I told her that if she required assistance in the future, I would give it. After I had issued my terms I stood to leave, and the next thing I knew she had embraced me."

Kari tapped her bottom lip in thought. No wonder he looked so confused. "And you've never had a hug before?"



He scowled. "I have been commanding Decepticon forces longer than the human race has existed. It is not something I encounter daily."

"Wow. You're ol—"

"Cease the commentary on my age if you wish to live." He warned. A man and his dog passed by. The man gave Megatron a worried glance.

"Okay, okay. So you want to know why Casey hugged you?"


"A hug can mean a couple things," began Kari, "and in this case, a hug is how Casey thanks people. I think you said what she wanted to hear."

"I do not understand. Why didn't she express gratitude verbally?"

"Because that's how Casey shows affection. Sometimes physical contact means more than words to humans. She hugs people she likes, respects, or trusts."

"So… it is a positive thing?"

"Yeah." Kari tilted her head in askance. "Why wouldn't it be?"

Megatron resumed pacing and scratched an itch on his chin. "I thought it reflected badly on myself, because if someone is comfortable enough to boldly express… affection for me, I must be less respectable."

"Oh no, not at all! If anything, she respects you more."

"She does?" He turned around so fast he startled the woman walking by. She clutched her purse close and hurried away from him.

"Sure. You tried fixing things after scaring her. It's a good thing, too." Kari's face split into the frightening grin that promised a slow and painful death.

Megatron shivered. He ran his fingers through his silver hair and cleared his throat. "A few weeks ago I would have destroyed her for speaking to me the way she had." He examined the creases in his gloves. "Ah, and what does one do when receiving a hug?"

Kari's smile became amused. "What did you do?"

I just stood there like a lump of slag, he thought, but wasn't about to say it.

"You froze up, huh?"

Megatron gurgled.

She laughed. "You can do that, or you can return it."

The very idea that he would reciprocate an act of affection was ludicrous. "Does it not mean I share the sentiment?" He sputtered. "I don't care… that much," He hastily added.

"You don't have to. It means you've accepted the gratitude given to you."

Megatron sat down heavily on the bench and leaned forward, covered his face with both hands. His loud exhale had a growl of weariness to it. Kari leaned over to him.

"Does it really bother you that much? This is like Human Nature 101 here. It's not hard to understand."

"Perhaps not for you, who was born human. It is hard to understand when I have been respected and ultimately feared my entire life for my cunning and superior power." He lifted his head and rested his chin on his hands. "And yet, here I find myself among humans as a human, both observing and participating in behavior I don't understand. It is troubling."

"How so?"

Megatron paused, his mind searching for a way to say what he'd been feeling for weeks. "I feel as though… I don't know who I am anymore."

Kari finally understood his confusion. For a moment she could see the fear on his face. She reached over and patted his broad shoulder. "Living in uncertainty is part of what makes us human, Megatron. We don't live long enough to think of things as permanent. We continuously change, and it makes things harder and easier at the same time."

Change. Megatron knew the word, but it usually meant a change of alternate mode, battle tactics, or replaced body components. An internal change— when did those occur? When was the last time he felt so lost within himself?

"I don't know about where you're from, but among us humans, you are who you make yourself out to be. So don't worry about it. A lot of us don't know where we're going or why, but that's half the fun, right?" Kari winked.

Megatron abruptly stood up. Change. He now had a name for the things bothering him. Now that they were identified, he could deal with them. His hands disappeared into his jacket pockets. "Thank you for your time and input. Your explanations have been valuable."

"No problem." Kari watched him walk away. "By the way, Mr. Bear?"

He stopped and glanced over his shoulder.

"A hug also may mean she's attracted to you!"

Megatron nearly fell over. He regained his balance and saw Kari waving at him.

"Just so you know!" She called cheerfully.

The color of the tabletop reminded Frenzy of Starflight's hair. Her hair wasn't as dark, but it was brown with a tint of red. He traced the grain in the wood with his finger, lamenting over how he hadn't seen her all day. She would be home from classes by now, napping or studying. Probably the latter. The only other Decepticon he knew who studied so much was Starscream. He thought it odd that a Decepticon spy would work so hard to earn scholarly knowledge of human information. Maybe it was part of her mission parameters? He didn't know. In fact, he didn't know very much about her at all. Sometimes she behaved more human than Decepticon, which made him wonder. He usually cast that train of thought aside immediately. Of course she was a Decepticon too; how else would she know who they were, and why else would she be helping them so much?

He slouched until his chin rested on the table. Across the diner, Starscream sat at the bar chatting with his human female Silvia. He frowned. It wasn't fair. He should be able to talk to Starflight too. Rumble came into view, followed by Soundwave and Megatron. They seated themselves at the bar. Rumble approached him.

"C'mon, Dad's gonna buy us supper."

Frenzy bounced up out of the booth. Food: His other favorite subject to think about.

"Hey Bro, what did you talk to Star about today?" asked Frenzy. He'd been curious about it for hours, since the two of them were rarely apart.

"Megatron's in a better mood now, by the way," said Rumble. "Dunno why, but thank Primus he is."

Frenzy frowned. "I asked you a question."

"And this is me ignoring it."


"You'll find out eventually."

"Can't you tell me now?"

Rumble didn't reply, and instead hopped up on the stool on Soundwave's right. Frenzy took the stool between Soundwave and Megatron, annoyed. What had Rumble been talking about with his girl?

Soundwave slid a menu in front of him. "Choose something you'll consume."

Rumble snickered. "That won't be hard. Bet he'd eat the menu."

"Ah, put a cap on it!" snapped Frenzy. He couldn't reach around Soundwave to punch him.

"Make me!"

"Behave yourselves." Ordered Megatron, glaring at the Cassetticons.

Subdued, Frenzy dropped his gaze to the menu, then the countertop underneath. It wasn't the color of Starflight's hair. He sighed. Three seats down, Starscream laughed at something Silvia said. She giggled back and kissed his cheek before moving away with her tray of drinks. Starscream grinned like one moonstruck. He looked stupid.

"I wish Star was here," Frenzy grumbled to himself. An idea popped into existence over his head, complete with a lightbulb flash. "Hey Dad! Can I go get Star so she can join us?"

Soundwave finished counting his dollar bills and tucked them back under his ratty blue baseball cap. Today he wore his official work shirt, a navy blue shirt with the word "Security" written on the back in yellow letters. He lifted an eyebrow in question to Frenzy.

"Please? She hasn't done anything fun since before she got sick. She's part of our group; there's no reason why not!"

Rumble made an exasperated noise. He took off his sunglasses and rubbed at his eyes. Usually they sparkled with mischief. Right now they looked troubled and stressed. Soundwave inhaled slowly, well aware of his Cassetticon's anxious state, and weighed it against Frenzy's burgeoning excitement and impatience. He tapped the menu under Frenzy's nose.

"You may retrieve her later. Current Operation: Dinner time."

After placing his order, Frenzy had a hard time sitting still. He bounced on the stool until Soundwave held him down with a hand at the nape of his neck. The food couldn't arrive fast enough.

Casey's nose hovered inches from her history textbook as she scribbled some notes word-for-word from the third paragraph. Her eyes flicked to the clock on her dresser: 8:36. She sighed. She'd been at this for over two hours. The music from her Halo Soundtrack CD helped her stay awake, but there were limits to her attention span. She fiddled with one of the earpieces that had come loose. Maybe she could take a break after finishing the current chapter…

A heavy hand landed on her textbook. Casey yelped and sat upright while the book was pulled away. She found herself nose-to-nose with Frenzy.

"What do you want? Give that back!"

"Time for a break, Star!" said Frenzy. "You're invited to the bar tonight!"

"Oh, I suppose the two of you are doing the inviting?" Casey pulled off her headphones and stopped the CD player.

Rumble appeared behind his brother. "The Boss wants you to come too."

"Well tell him I have homework to do. I'm busy."

"Not if I take this book with me," Frenzy teased, holding it out of her reach.

"And Megatron figured you'd say that." said Rumble. "He said that if you did, you should know he'd come get you himself."

Protest died in her mouth while she imagined the brief fight that would be. Knowing Megatron, he'd sling her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and ignore any kicking and screaming she did. The twins watched her changing expressions, amused.

"Well?" They prompted together.

She studied her starred bedspread cover. "I'm not a bar scene person. I'd much rather stay here by myself and have some quiet."

"Hmm… I bet Screamer would help too, huh?"

"Yeah, maybe."

"Boys!" cried Casey, glaring at them both. "I don't do bars, loud music, or any of that stuff. Period."

"So are you gonna sit here with your nose in the books all your life?" Frenzy snapped the textbook shut and threw it carelessly on the floor. "You never go out and do anything fun!"

"Going to a bar is hardly my idea of "fun". It's not safe for a girl like me anyway."

Rumble huffed, crossing his beefy arms. "Heeey, what are we, spare parts?"

"Yeah, it's not like we'd get there and ditch you, girl." Said Frenzy. "You're one of us."

She blinked. "I… am?"

"Of course!" Frenzy pulled her into a sideways hug. "And I won't let anyone mess with you, babe. None of us will. Right Bro?"

Rumble's expression soured a bit, but he nodded. "Right."

For once she forgot to correct him of his pet name for her and enjoyed the hug for a moment. "O… okay. Just give me a minute, I want to change clothes."

Three figures passed under a streetlight, casting long shadows on the sidewalk. Soundwave lifted his sunglasses to make sure he was seeing things correctly. The young man standing in front of him quailed and started backing off.

"I haven't done nothing, sir, honest!"

He realized he was blocking the entrance to the bar club and stepped to one side. "You may enter. Quit your blubbering."

The guy scurried in, dragging his unimpressed girlfriend with him. Soundwave reestablished his place by the door and let his sunglasses fall back into place. So, they managed to get her here after all. A rare, genuine smile crossed his face. Rumble and Frenzy approached with Casey trailing along behind them, her eyes wide and unsure. Frenzy noticed how far behind she was and pulled her between himself and his brother. Soundwave scanned over the three of them, back to being completely stoic.

"You have IDs?"

Rumble scoffed. "Daaaad, you know who we are."

"Affirmative, but the young woman is unfamiliar to me. Miss, are you old enough to enter?"

She played with the sleeves of her back sweatshirt. "Yes, but that doesn't mean I want to. I was told something about your leader coming to get me otherwise."

"Yeah, so let us in already or we'll have to catch her when she runs away!" demanded Frenzy.

The corners of Soundwave's mouth twitched upwards. "Very well. Michael and Maverick are at the bar." He stepped aside as Frenzy took Casey's hand to lead her in. "Casey."

"Uh, yes?"

"If anyone gives you trouble, let me know."

She gave him a nervous smile. "Thanks, Walker."

The ice in Starscream's glass rattled as he poked at them with a stirring stick. He took a wary glance at Megatron, who was sipping his drink quietly. It was… rather odd to have his leader relatively peaceful like this. But at the same time, it reminded him of the old days, before they were so wrapped up in the war with the Autobots. All that didn't seem so important here. Now it was like they were old friends out to have a drink all over again. He turned to watch the rock band up on stage. They belted out lyrics about how unfair life was and that dying young would be a blessing. Bah, humans have no idea what unfairness is, he thought, they don't live long enough. He stopped poking at the ice long enough to take one last swallow and felt the cool drink burn his throat and warm his insides. He inspected the glass. Not bad. He still missed energon though. Movement in their direction caught his eye.

"Well, well."

"Hmm?" Megatron set his glass down and followed Starscream's finger.

"Hey Boss!" Rumbled hailed them, "Look who we brought!"

Starscream grinned and leaned to Megatron's ear. "Guess like your idle threat worked."

"Idle? Hardly. I would have done it to get her here, as stubborn as she is."

"Hmm, yes, she's awfully stubborn… Like someone else we both know." Starscream shrugged and grinned wider when his leader cast a glance at him. "Just telling the truth."

"Your version of the truth is usually warped."

Megatron turned his attention to the approaching twins and found himself smiling. Casey looked scared and didn't realize how closely she was clinging to Frenzy. He pulled his jacket off an empty stool and patted it. "We saved a place for you."

Cautiously she left Frenzy's side and slid onto it with shoulders hunched. "I'm here. You saw me. Can I go home now?"

He exchanged glances with Starscream over her head. Her posture screamed get me OUT of here. It puzzled him that she would be so uncomfortable. Well, that furthered his cause for getting her here in the first place.

"No, you just got here. Have something to drink. I'll buy."

"I'd rather not, thank you."

Rumble saw his leader's expression darken and chimed in. "They have soda here."

Frenzy picked up on his brother's lead and hopped onto the stool beside her. "Yeah, the good kind, like what you gave us."

Her face brightened. "Really?"


Starscream watched her body language and leaned close to Megatron again, making sure to stay unheard above the rock music. "I don't get it. It's like she feels threatened by this place."

"She'll have to get used to it." Megatron raised his hand. "Waitress!"

Casey studied the countertop until she heard a prissy voice in front of her. "Well, the bookworm does come out once and awhile."

She jerked her head up and met Silvia's eyes. She wasn't wearing much like usual, but the apron with the bar logo covered up anything indecent. Megatron cringed. This hadn't been part of the plan. He caught Casey's arm before she could get up and pinned Silvia with a glare.

"Make no trouble tonight. Get her what she wants. It's your job."

Silvia tipped her head and sneered. "I'm sure we have some watered down baby food out back. If that's what she wants, of course."

"Grape soda. From the can." Casey sat up straighter. "If that's not too much trouble."

She received a frosty smile. "Not at all. Be right back."

Starscream watched her hips sway as she departed, completely captivated. "I love that girl."

Casey snorted. "I hate that woman."

"You just don't understand her like I do."

"No, you think you understand her but you know nothing at all." She sucked in a breath and let it go slowly. "But whatever. I won't go into that again with you."

"That's because you can't win against me."

"If you have a big enough gun you can." Megatron passed a wink to Casey and smirked when Starscream balked and stomped away.

Up on stage, the lead singer of Chainsaw Melody thanked his rowdy audience for listening and announced they would be taking a 20-minute break. The sudden lack of banging and twanging left the room's occupants with ringing ears. After some laughing and shoving, the band members filed off the stage to mingle with the crowd. Silvia reappeared with a can of grape soda and a glass, but hurried elsewhere before she could make any comments. Casey prodded the can, hesitant to open it right away. It was fizzing quite suspiciously. Maybe it would be safe in another ten minutes or so. She slouched down until her arms rested on the counter. At least I can hear myself THINK now. She squeaked when she felt Frenzy's hand come around to give her another hug.

"Hey Babe, don't look so down. You look like we've dragged you into a torture chamber."

"Don't call me that. I'm getting used to the atmosphere. The lack of insanely loud music helps."

"Aw, wassamattah Sheila, didn't like our music?"

Casey whirled to face a tall young man with bleach blonde hair and grey eyes. He wore the black outfit of the band members who had been playing minutes before. Frenzy's grip around her waist tightened as he growled.

"So what if she doesn't?"

"Easy, Jake. It's okay." She soothed him, thankful she'd practiced calling him by his human name, then smiled at the young rock star. "It's not that I don't like it, I'm just not used to the volume."

"Oh, I see. New around here are ye?" He smiled back and blinked. "Wait…." He pointed at Frenzy. "Jake? I thought I just saw you over…"

"You mean me?" asked Rumble from behind, and put on his most innocent grin when the young man yelped.

"Eh, er, yeah…Uh, Elwood? Are you the two who sit in the park playing that guitar, the Rockin' Blues Brothers?"

It was Frenzy's turn to blink in surprise. "Yeah, that's us. Who's askin?"

Megatron rolled his eyes and buried himself in his drink. The 'Rockin Blues Brothers', indeed… Why did they have to bring attention to themselves? Idiots.

"Wow! Never thought I'd get the chance to talk to you two. Name's Riley. I listen to you guys sometimes."

Rumble's eyebrows peeked above his sunglasses. "Hey, yeah… Bro, it's that guy who always stands by that tree."

"Oh, yeah, no wonder you looked familiar. Good to talk to ya." Frenzy kept a firm grip around Casey while offering the other hand for a shake.

"Likewise. You guys are pretty good. It's easy to see why you draw a crowd."

"Meh, it's nothing really." Frenzy tried sounding modest but he looked far too smug. "Well, maybe it is, but we're not up on stage like you."

Riley laughed at that. "Why, do you wanna be?"

The Cassetticon twins froze and fell silent. Casey felt a tremor shake down Frenzy's arm and peeled it off, letting it drop to the counter. "That sounded like an offer to me."

"Are you two up for it?" tempted Riley.

Unable to contain himself Rumble blurted, "Do you mean it?"

"Of course, if you want to."

"Uh… we've never been on stage before…" admitted Frenzy hesitantly.

"Bro! This could be our big chance! It'll never happen at home!"

"Yeah, I know, but it's still… um… what do you think Boss?"

Megatron didn't bother looking up. "I don't care."

Casey could see just behind Frenzy's sunglasses. His eyes were bright and eager, but worried. "Would you do it if I promised a surprise afterwards?" she asked.

She had his attention. "Like what?"

She opened her mouth, closed it, and blushed under the lamplight. "If I told you it wouldn't be a surprise."

He scratched the back of his head. "Well…"

"Aw, c'mon bro. I say we do it. Uat'l cy Rvibr!"

Frenzy jumped off the stool, nodding. "You're right. Let's do it."

"Sweet!" Riley took them both on either side and started heading towards the stage. "We'll go talk to the band, and hopefully we know some songs you do."

When they had gotten far enough away Casey tapped Megatron on the shoulder. "What did that phrase mean that Rumble used?"

"Huh?" He stared at her until the question finally got through to his fogged mind. "It's an old Decepticon saying. Roughly translated it means 'Live in the moment'."

"Oh, sort of like Carpe Diem?"

"The same idea." He noticed Starscream at the end of the bar, talking to Silvia again. They were standing far too close together. He tipped his glass and crunched down hard on an ice cube. "Slagging fool."

"Um, are you okay?"

Megatron let the cold lumps of ice slide down his throat. "No. I'm burdened by the entire world."

"Oh." Casey tested her can of grape soda and flicked open the pulltab. She flinched, but nothing came spraying out. "You and me both."

Soundwave blinked sleepily and checked his watch. It was twenty minutes before 10 PM. A few more hours of this and he could go home. He stopped for a moment and analyzed that thought. Yes, Casey's apartment felt like home now. After a month as a human he had some attachment to that place, and everyone else who lived there with him. It was strange since he usually didn't care about such things. And how much longer would they be here? He tried not to worry about it. It was always best to take one thing at a time. Technically he didn't have to guard the bar club door anymore and trade places with another bouncer, but he liked the night air and the quiet of the sleeping city. It reminded him of Cybertron, long before they started warring with the Autobots. Back home, his real home, would he ever enjoy a moment like this again?

He shook his head to banish the sentimental thought. It was best not to go there because wishful thinking does nothing for the present. He wondered how the other Decepticons were doing. Maybe he should join them. He had just started to turn and go inside when Casey squeaked and bounced off his stomach. Startled, he grabbed her arm before she could hit the ground.

"Are you injured?"

She righted herself and rubbed her forehead. "No, but I swear you're made of solid brick."

"I have been told the same by others. Did you need my assistance with the removal of anyone offending you?"

"No, but thanks for the thought." Casey took his hand and attempted to pull him in. "I came to tell you that your boys are about to go onstage. They wanted you to see."

Frenzy shook himself from head to toe all over again, trying to dispel some nervousness. Singing in a park was one thing, but up on stage, under these bright lights with everyone staring at him, was another thing entirely. This was like looking Optimus Prime in the optics with no weaponry ready. Briefly he envied his brother, who had the electric guitar in his hands to at least keep them occupied. Suddenly being the "lead singer" didn't seem like such a good idea. If he screwed up everyone would know it.

"Settle down." Rumble whispered in his ear. "We practiced and the band knows our songs."

"Yeah yeah… it's just weird being so slaggin' nervous. Never been this way before."

"Me neither. Look, Star got Dad. And here comes Riley."

As they rehearsed the lead singer of Chainsaw Melody stepped up to the microphone in front of Frenzy. "How ya doin' everybody?!"

The crowd swelled and cheered in reply. Riley laughed. "Good to hear it! We have some special guests tonight, Elwood and Jake, the Rockin' Blues Brothers! Maybe you've seen them around, and they're gunna sing us some songs tonight!"

The crowd cheered again while Riley stepped back and patted Frenzy on the shoulder. "All yours, little man."

"Uh… thanks." He swallowed and fought the need to wipe sweat out of his eyes. He spotted Megatron, Casey and Soundwave sitting at the bar and gritted his teeth. He could do this. He was a Decepticon. Glancing over his shoulder he shared a nod with his brother and received smiles from the waiting band members.

"Alright, greetings everyone! We have two songs tonight, an' the first one is for all you real-life warriors out there."

The room fell eerily silent until the drummer struck the first beats and Rumble joined in with the electric guitar, beginning the first chords of Pillar's "Frontline".

"It's not like I'm walking alone into the valley of the shadow of death
Stand beside one another, 'cause it ain't over yet
I'd be willing to bet that if we don't back down
You and I will be the ones that are holding the ground in the end…"

Rumble joined his brother on the second verse. At the refrain the back-up guitarists exploded into life and the tension of the room shattered.

"Everybody, with your fists raised high
Let me hear your battle cry tonight
Stand beside or step aside
We're on the frontline!

Everybody, with your fists raised high
Let me hear your battle cry tonight
Stand beside or step aside
We're on the frontline!"

By the third time through the refrain minutes later the crowd responded with mighty roars at "battle cry" and pumped their fists in the air when Frenzy cued it. When the last note of the song died out applause and crazy shouts thundered up to the ceiling. Rumble and Frenzy took quick bows and wore enormous grins. Wait 'til everyone heard about this on Cybertron!

Casey giggled and bounced with glee, adding her enthusiasm to the crowd's answer to their performance. Soundwave watched the young woman jump up and down, smiling without being aware of it.

"Omigosh wow! That was so awesome, and a nod to all Decepticons too!"

For once Megatron didn't complain about their choice of music. He almost felt like letting go of the stupor he'd been in for hours. "I agree, that is us."

"They are beginning another one," announced Soundwave.

"… for my girl," Casey heard when she paid attention. The drummer went into a fit of pounding. Rumble stepped up beside his brother and let loose a furious rip of the guitar. When Frenzy started into the first verse she recognized the song immediately and hid her face. "Oh dear…"

Rumble revved the guitar during the refrain and echoed Frenzy.

"Because somewhere
the one I wanna be with's
with somebody else
Oh god, I wanna be that
someone that you're with

And I can talk about it all day long
'til I run out of breath
But I still wanna be that
someone that you're with

And I'm pacing by the phone
'Cause I hate to be alone
And if you're out there with him
somewhere and just about to kiss
God I wanna be that
someone that you're with!"

"Hey Star, he's looking at you." Starscream sidled up and poked her. Casey squeaked and peeked between her fingers. Her eyes met Frenzy's and he grinned knowingly.

"Well I hear your favorite songs
you sing along with everyday—"

"Hey bad boy," interjected Rumble. Casey squealed and hid in Soundwave's shirt.

"And I borrow things that
I don't need for conversation's sake—"

"Got any undies?" Rumble asked, and the crowd laughed.

"Last night I heard your key,
it hit your lock at 4 AM
Instead of being out with me
you must be out with them—"

"Shame on you!"

"Well I'd rather start off slow
This whole thing's like some sort of race
Instead of winning what I want
I'm sitting here in second place!"

By the song's end Casey wasn't sure if she should die of embarrassment or flattery. The crowd cheered wildly again. Riley stepped onto the stage and bade the audience to give another round of applause, and everyone did so heartily. Rumble graciously gave him back his guitar and followed his brother off-stage and into the boiling crowd. Frenzy dodged around drunk well-wishers and instant fangirls to get back to the bar. He pulled off his sunglasses to swipe off sweat from his brow. He shook from adrenaline and nervousness.

"Well? How'd we do?"

"Very interesting." Megatron raised his fourth serving of whiskey. "I toast to you both. You have learned human music well."

"And you harmonize extremely well with each other," said Starscream.

Soundwave and gently pried Casey off of his shirt, spinning her around so she had to face Frenzy. He looked expectantly at her.

"Well Star?"

Squeaking, she hid behind Soundwave's arm. "You did very well. I didn't know you two could sing like that."

He beamed. "Neither did we! It was amazing! Hey… why do you look so embarrassed?"

"Why do you THINK?"

"In her current state I suspect her face will remain red for at least 72 hours." Soundwave pulled his arm away before she could slap it. She settled for poking him in the side.

"Quiet you."

"Ah, liked our song then didja?"

"Hey Bro!" Rumble popped out of the crowd, followed by a few of the band members and curious onlookers. "Everyone wants to know who "your girl" is."

Casey's mouth dropped open and she ducked behind Soundwave to escape. Frenzy caught her in a hug. "This one is!" He pressed his face against her chest and grinned widely.

"I am not! Let go, you little minion!"

"Love you too Baby!" He blinked. "By the way, what was my surprise?"

She gasped for breath when he loosened his hug and pushed away from his sweaty body. "Um… grape soda."

"Aw c'mon, it's gotta be better than that!"

She slipped under his arms and kicked up her foot to keep him from grabbing her again. "Don't press your luck. I'm not going to do it here."

"Do what?" questioned Rumble with about eight other people. Then it dawned on them all at once. "Do it Star!"

"Give it to him girl!"

"Plant a big wet one!"

Frenzy frowned. "Huh?"

Casey tried to ignore all the chanting people but quickly realized they would never leave her alone otherwise. Oh, HOW did this stuff keep happening to her? Blushing furiously, she leaned down to Frenzy's cheek and kissed it. "There."

He lit up like a dozen fireworks going off in one red burst. "Awww, Baby!" he cried and jumped on her, squeezing her in an enormous cuddle. "I knew you loved me!"

A little while later, Casey lined up a shot for the purple number 4 ball. She tested her pool stick with a gentle tap on the cue ball. Drawing it back, she struck the cue ball, sending it careening into the number 4 ball. They made a solid crack! upon impact, and the number 4 ball spun into the corner pocket. Satisfied, she stood and blew some blue chalk off the tip of her pool stick.

"Your turn, Jake."

The Cassetticon Twins had taken an interest in the game of pool. Frenzy scratched the back of his head, puzzling over which ball to go after next. Casey had a longer reach over the table than he did. She'd been arranging the balls after each strike so it would be harder for him to get to his striped balls. He went around the pool table twice, muttering calculations of angle and velocity to himself. Finally, he settled for aiming at the striped yellow number 9 ball. He stretched to sit on the table's edge with one leg hanging over the side for balance.

"Careful you don't stand in line with his shot," Casey warned Rumble.

He ignored her, watching his brother prepare to strike the cue ball. Casey sighed and looked for the other Decepticons. Soundwave stood near the front door, leaning on a stool. Megatron hadn't moved from the bar. Starscream had apparently given up trying to follow Silvia around. She spotted Silvia walking by with a tray of colorful alcoholic drinks in test tube-shaped glasses. Casey waved to get her attention.

"Can I talk to you for a minute?"

Silvia stopped, rolling her eyes. "You have thirty seconds."

"All I want to say is that Maverick really likes you, and that's fine. Just… Don't hurt him, please?"

"What makes you think I would? I like him too."

Casey managed to bite back a reply, and instead gave Silvia a look that said we both know your reputation.

Silvia picked a strand of hair out of her face. "I won't if there's no reason to."

That was the best she was going to get, so Casey nodded. "Thank you."

As she moved away, Frenzy took his shot. He hit the cue ball too hard. It bounced over the striped yellow number 9 ball, struck the table cushion, and bounced off Rumble's forehead.

"OwowOW!" he cried, slapping his hands onto his face. "That hurt!"

Frenzy slid off the table. "Sorry! I didn't mean it!"

"Like the Inferno you didn't—" Rumble charged him with fists swinging.

"Whoa! Hey, hey!" Casey dodged between them and fended him away with her pool stick. "Settle down. I told you not to stand there for a reason!"

Rumble gingerly traced the rising red circle on his forehead with his fingers. "You both suck diesel fumes, and you know it!"

Across the room, Soundwave felt an emotion spike from one of his Cassetticons. Rumble's mood had mellowed out as the night went on; now it was edgy and annoyed like it had been before. The angry emotions tapered off when he saw Frenzy hand over his pool stick as a peace offering. Placated, Rumble took it and waited for Casey to take her turn.

Soundwave yawned. It was past midnight, that time when it became difficult to focus on his job. Luckily his soldier's training kicked in, helping him stay alert. He considered trading places with his fellow bouncer Flint. Standing outside in the night air helped keep him awake. He really ought to send his Cassetticons and Casey home though, before the late night customers got rowdy, and—

Further thought vanished when someone grabbed Soundwave's butt and squeezed it.

"Oh, it's as solid as it looks!"

Soundwave spun around, a rush of emotions crowding his mind: Confusion, irritation, and embarrassment. Usually straight-faced, a look of shock made his expression comical as his eyebrows shot up under his hat. A man equal in Soundwave's weight but less in height grinned at him, lifting his bottle with a drunken smile.

"How ya doin'? Hope ya didn't mind that, I had to see for myself. Mighty fine ass there!"

Soundwave recovered his composure with some difficulty. "I recommend you do not do that again."

Ash took a swallow of his beer. "You're a big fellow. I wish I could look like you. How'd ya get so brawny, eh?"

Soundwave shrugged. "Magic."

"'Magic' he says! Ha!" Ash stumbled over and leaned on Soundwave's folded arms like a counter. "I like you. See that woman over there? I'll tell you a secret about 'er!"

"Really?" Soundwave asked, not at all interested. Although annoyed, he reserved himself knowing Ash was just being friendly.

Ash whispered in his face. Or, rather, he thought he was whispering, when he was almost yelling full-volume. "She's my girlfriend, an' she's got twin freckles on her ass! Heehee!"

"You don't say."

"I do!" Pushing himself away, Ash wobbled over to his group of friends. He bumped into Megatron, who stood immediately and grabbed the man by the front of his shirt.

"What's your malfunction, human?"

Ash stared blankly at him. "Did you know your eyes glow in the dark?"

Starscream tried reasoning with his leader. "Now, it was an accident—"

Soundwave intervened. He removed Megatron's hand from Ash's shirt and gently pushed him onto his stool.

"It is nothing but a mistake. He is heavily intoxicated."

Grumbling, Megatron sat down and returned to nursing his latest drink. Ash rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand. Had that guy's eyes really been glowing? He looked into his beer bottle, which was two-thirds empty. It had to be the beer.

"Hey Ash, was that guy giving you trouble?" asked Marcello when he joined him at their table.

"Ah, no." Ash draped his arm around Soundwave's waist. "Guys, meet… uh, wha's yer name?"


"Walker! He's magic!"

"Yes Ash, we know who he is." Marcello said, giving Soundwave a sympathetic smile. "Aren't those two boys yours?" he tilted his glass in the direction of the pool tables.


The guy beside Marcello whistled. "Who's the gal with 'em?"

Soundwave immediately bristled. Later he would realize he felt responsible for Casey like he did with his Cassetticons. "My son's girlfriend."

"Aww." Colin stopped fixing up his shirt and returned to his basket of pretzels.

"I'm back." A young woman announced, weaving her way through the crowd to the table. While Ash was distracted with her arrival, Soundwave took the opportunity to remove Ash's hand from his waist and step away. What he heard next made him stop.

"I swear, some men are absolute pigs."

Ash finished his beer. "Why? What happened, Vanessa?"

"Some asshole tried pulling my shorts down when I came out of the bathroom. Said something about wanting to see freckles." Vanessa occupied herself with breaking apart pretzels to vent her anger.

"Who?" Ash demanded.

"That guy in the Packers jersey."

It wasn't hard to spot someone wearing a Packers jersey in an establishment full of Vikings fans. The beefy young man laughed and jabbed his friends in the ribs, gesturing to Vanessa's table.

"I thought I told those guys to stay outta here! They always bother you!" Ash growled. "They must be retarded."

"Don't worry about it. Really." said Vanessa, shifting uncomfortably in her chair.

"No way! I'm not going to ignore somebody touching my girl!"

Soundwave had a suspicion this would end badly, but until anything happened, all he could do was watch and signal his coworkers to do the same. Since Ash was heading toward the bar, he sent a mental warning to Starscream and Megatron as well.

Not a moment later, trouble erupted on the other side of the room. Two women began an all-out brawl, accusing each other of spreading scandalous rumors. The crowd backed away from them, creating an arena where the two opponents could fight to the death. Soundwave had seen many battles in his day; he had to admit fewer things were more vicious than women fighting.

He hurried over to restore order. By now they were on the floor, one atop the other, rolling, punching and shrieking obscenities that would make a sailor's hair curl. Soundwave grabbed the woman on top by the arms and pulled her off. He pinned her hands behind her back.

"Cease struggling immediately." Ordered Soundwave. He had a hard time keeping hold of her while not hurting her at the same time.


"Like hell I did! You lied about ME!" The other competitor got up with another bouncer's help. He asked if she was injured. She didn't answer and went about straightening up her clothes. Much to the joy of the observing male audience, her tank top had been ripped.

"Go screw yourself, bitch!"

"You first!"

Clearly neither party had intentions of ending things peacefully. Soundwave tried to let the restrained customer walk on her own, but as soon as her feet touched the floor she lunged after her new mortal enemy. Soundwave hefted her up and carried her toward the door.

At the same time, Ash caught up with the Packers fan who had violated his girlfriend. Flint stepped in before any blows were thrown. As Soundwave strolled by with the screaming customer, all three men stopped to watch. When Flint wasn't looking, Ash slugged the Packers guy. Soundwave wasn't fast enough to dodge the return punch, which missed Ash and struck him in the shoulder. His sunglasses flew off and clattered onto the counter. He dropped the woman and glared at Ash and the Packers guy. Anger sparked dangerously in his eyes. His jaw clenched shut as his teeth ground together.

Flint grabbed the woman by the sleeve to get her out of the way. Taking both men by the scruff of the neck, Soundwave lifted them a foot from the ground, walked to the front door, and threw them onto the sidewalk. He stomped back inside and snatched his sunglasses. His glare transferred to the previous troublemaker.


She went.

The Packer guy's buddies crowded around Soundwave.

"You can't do that!"

A few seats down at the bar, Megatron laughed. "He just did!"

One of them spun to face him. "You got a problem, old man?"

"Not at all!" Megatron smirked. "But you're about to get one."

In the beat of silence that followed, Soundwave cracked his knuckles.

Everyone vanished.

Soundwave sat down on the stool beside Megatron. Anger suddenly left him, leaving him cold. He shook his head and stared at the countertop. When was the last time he'd felt such hostility, let alone expressed it? This was something he hadn't experienced for… millennia. His existence had been defined by limiting emotional response in favor of rational, calm action that made him an asset in the Great War. Megatron praised him for this and his loyalty, necessary traits for a trusted Communications Officer in charge of Decepticon security and subterfuge. And now…. There was this. Erratic behavior that still got the job done, but was colored by intense, disorderly emotion. He did not like this at all.

"Hey Dad, are you okay?" Frenzy asked, carefully approaching him with Rumble and Casey behind.

Soundwave nodded in thanks when the bartender put a glass of ice water in front of him. He drained it in three swallows. Like it or not, he was encountering his emotions again full force. How odd. He'd always been in tune to everyone else's emotions and not his own. Vaguely he registered the worry projected by his Cassetticons and Casey. He set the empty glass down and leaned back. He replaced his sunglasses, weariness settling in his mind like a fog he couldn't see through.

"Dad?" asked Rumble, touching his shoulder.

"When I get home," began Soundwave, "I am cuddling with the cat. Then I will finish my bag of marshmallows."

No one argued.

An hour later the excitement had died down and the more responsible bar-goers had already left for home. Up on stage Chainsaw Melody still belted out music to a bouncing crowd, but it was less energetic now. Megatron and Starscream sat side by side at the bar again. Somehow the twins had convinced Casey to dance with them and Soundwave was taking care of drunkards needing help out. Despite her initial reluctance to come, Casey seemed to be enjoying herself. Megatron took another swallow of his drink, floundering in a strange mood of solemn reflection. He watched them dance, giving a wistful sigh.

"Ah, to be young again…"

"Oh, could it be the Mighty Leader is feeling old?" asked Starscream with his customary sneer.

"No, not old. Just aged. Don't you feel it too?"

The Air Commander poked at the last bit of ice left in his glass. "Sometimes, but it's not like we're ancient."

"The war adds far too many stellarcycles to our lives."

"Look, you scare me when you talk like that. It means you're reaching the threshold of your liquid alcohol tolerances. It does strange things to you. Next you'll be calling me "old friend" again."

"Isn't that what we used to be? Before everything? Sometimes I grow weary of it, Starscream. I will die fighting for what I believe in, I will someday defeat the Autobots, but compared to this life…. Fighting seems so useless. Is it worth it?"

"Of course it is! You're supposed to know everything, not question it. You are the ultimate Decepticon everyone wants to be." Starscream eyed the row of empty glasses in front of his leader. "You're also drunk. Don't let the others hear you talk like that. Especially Casey."

Megatron's dull eyes searched his. "Why would she care?"

"Because she does. It's obvious she cares for all of us; even you should've noticed that by now. I cannot fathom why she does, but the fact remains. And she looks up to you too."


"The same reason I do, Megatron: Guidance." Starscream's nose wrinkled in disgust. He spat on the floor. "And I've had too much to drink as well."

"Sokay, old friend." With a shaky hand Megatron's half-full glass rose. "Decepticons forever?"

A second glass arose and struck it. "Decepticons forever."

To be continued…..